WLS Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by Congress and President Obama has opened the doors to LGBT military personnel serving openly in the armed forces. Gay armed service members will soon be out of the closet if they chose to be.  In this post I’ll share my thoughts on why weight loss surgery patients should not be living your post-op life in the closet. I know many folks in my bariatric community hide the fact that they had weight loss surgery from their friends, family and coworkers.

A policy like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell illustrates the negative effects of hiding a key aspect of your life. Service members lived in fear of exposure, were cautious of forming close relationships with fellow service members, and were unsure of whom to trust and look to for support. Weight loss surgery patients can easily put themselves into a similar situation by living in the weight loss surgery closet. Living you post-op life in this manner is just unhealthy.

The primary argument that I hear from those who are not open about their surgery is that WLS is a private matter and just none of anyone’s business. I’ll agree with them to a point. I don’t just walk up to anyone I meet and say, “Hi! I am Tom and I had bariatric surgery.” I share it when it fits into the discussion and don’t share it when it is not pertinent to the conversation. To me, my WLS surgery did transform me. I am proud of my progress and results. I share my story to let people know who I really am, where I came from, and what motivates me in life.

Nosy co-workers and family are usually at the top of the “I’ll never tell them” list. I’ve come to know that gossip travels fast and sooner or later they will know. Believe me, it will be sooner. You might as well let them know first hand and give them the real story and true facts rather than them spreading second hand news that is more likely to be untrue.

Then there are the “He took the easy way out” and “OMG, You will die from this surgery” people. We all know them, don’t we? These are precisely the people you need to come out of the closet for. They base their knowledge on sensational press stories; Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer shows; and that horror story that a coworker told them once about a cousin’s dry cleaner’s sister-in-law who lives in Hawaii whose pediatrician had RNY and died from losing too much weight too fast. You get the picture. Come out and give them the real facts first hand.

Now let’s look at the positive side of coming out as a post-op WLS patient. PRIDE should be #1 on your list. Losing weight takes effort and is not easy. You need to be outwardly proud of your accomplishment. WLS post-ops are what I call transformed. Dramatic weight loss is a life changer. Lethargic people become avid runners, cyclists, tennis players and join sports teams. People who were shy and invisible become vibrant and full of life. People will notice and want to know what changed in your life. Telling your weight loss story will instill pride in yourself and echo back the pride they see in you.

Don’t underestimate the knowledge you have gained as the result of your weight loss journey. Successfully changing your diet and exercise routines are something people want to hear about. It crosses into the realm of anyone wanting to live a healthy life and lose weight. Feeling free to share information you learned from your surgeon, nutritionist, personal trainer and your support network allows you to contribute to the successes of others.

There is a lot to be said about being free to live as who you really are. We all face everyday challenges in our lives. Don’t let keeping your WLS secret be one of those challenges. Being chronically overweight is a disease. You took the initiative to treat that symptom and enjoy the benefits. Don’t let yourself look back and justify your decisions. Always look forward, but build on the successes you had in the past.

My Lapband surgery does not define my life. It is part of my life. As with other aspects of my life, I feel free to share or not share it at my discretion. I feel strongly about sharing it in situations where people misunderstand the surgery. A WLS educated society will remove the stigma associated with the surgery. WLS patients are the ones who can do that best. As a post-op patient, I feel a duty to share my story and experiences with those considering surgery, newly post-op or somewhere else on the weight loss continuum. I know that I looked for and needed that type of person as I traveled and continue to travel this journey.

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